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PTSD: Understanding the Mental Illness and Disability

Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), once known as shell shock, is a serious mental health condition disease that can develop when a person has experienced or seen a horrific or traumatic event. PTSD is a long-lasting effect of traumatic events that induce extreme anxiety, helplessness, nightmares, flashbacks, and terror.

PTSD can be triggered by sexual or physical assault, the unexpected death of a loved one, war, a car accident, or a natural disaster. Getting effective treatment after PTSD symptoms develop can be crucial to reducing the severity of symptoms and improving the general functioning of the human body.

PTSD affects 3.6 percent of the adult population of the United States or around 9 million people. Approximately 37 percent of PTSD sufferers are classed as having severe symptoms. Women are more prone to experience PTSD than men.

Symptoms of PTSD

While not all traumatized people suffer short-term symptoms, the vast majority do not develop chronic PTSD. Not everyone with PTSD has experienced a traumatic event. PTSD can also be caused by events such as the sudden, unexpected loss of a loved one. Symptoms often manifest within three months of the traumatic event but sometimes might manifest years afterward. Signs and symptoms need to endure longer than a month and be severe enough to disrupt relationships or work to be considered PTSD. The course of this mental illness varies. Some patients recover within six months, while others continue to have symptoms for much longer. In certain patients, the condition becomes chronic.

A psychologist or psychiatrist with experience in diagnosing and treating mental illnesses can diagnose PTSD.

For an adult to be diagnosed with PTSD, the following symptoms must be present for at least one month:

  • At least one re-experiencing symptom
  • At least one avoidance symptom
  • At least two arousal and reactivity symptoms
  • At least two cognition and mood symptoms

Re-experiencing Symptoms

  • Nightmares
  • Flashbacks (reliving the trauma)
  • Painful memories and frightening thoughts

Avoidance Symptoms

  • Changing routine to avoid triggering memories
  • Feeling numb
  • Avoiding feelings and thoughts about the event
  • Staying away from events, objects, or places, that are reminders of the traumatic event

Arousal and Reactivity Symptoms

  • Irritable or aggressive behavior
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Poor concentration
  • Scanning the environment for signs of danger
  • Being easily startled
  • Constant, excessive alertness

Cognition and Mood Symptoms

  • Distorted feelings like guilt or blame
  • Having trouble remembering key features of the traumatic situations
  • Having negative thoughts about oneself or other people
  • Loss of interest in enjoyable activities

Having some of these symptoms for a few weeks after a traumatic incident is natural. Some people with PTSD exhibit no symptoms for weeks or months. PTSD is usually accompanied by substance abuse, depression, or one or more of the other anxiety disorders.

Picture showing the symptoms of PTSD

Causes and Risk Factors of PTSD

PTSD is a reaction to stressful life experiences, such as bad accidents, fires, bombings, sexual assault, torture, or witnessing a family member, friend, or other people being injured or killed. Natural disasters, such as hurricanes, floods, and earthquakes, can also result in PTSD.

Some individuals who experience traumatic situations do not develop PTSD. Numerous factors influence the likelihood that an individual may develop this mental illness.

Risk factors increase a person’s risk of developing PTSD. PTSD risk factors include:

  • feeling shame, guilt, or responsibility for the event or its outcome
  • experiencing additional stress after the traumatic event (e.g., the sudden death of a loved one, loss of a home or job, or pain and injury).
  • feeling helplessness or extreme fear
  • having a history of mental health problems
  • having a small support system after the traumatic event
  • experiencing stressful and traumatic events and trauma in the past

PTSD in Children and Teenagers

When older children and teens develop PTSD, they face similar issues as adults. Younger children may communicate their grief differently. For example, instead of experiencing uncomfortable memories of the incident throughout the day, they may relive it through repetitive play. Rather than having nightmares that relive the traumatic event, many children have terrifying dreams with no recognizable content. Children may also lose interest in once-enjoyed activities and plays, become socially isolated or exhibit excessive temper tantrums.

Other issues that can develop alongside PTSD include anxiety or depression, rebellious behavior, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and, in teens and young adults, suicidal thoughts and alcohol or drug use.


To diagnose posttraumatic stress disorder, your doctor will likely:

  • Perform a physical exam
  • Do a psychological evaluation
  • Use the criteria in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), published by the American Psychiatric Association

For the PTSD diagnosis, exposure to an incident involving the actual or potential threat of death, violence, or significant injury is required. Your exposure may occur in any of the following ways:

  • You directly witness the traumatic event
  • You witnessed the traumatic event occurring to others
  • You found out that traumatic your loved one experienced the traumatic event
  • You are repeatedly exposed to graphic details of traumatic events

You may have PTSD if the issues you encounter after the traumatic event last for more than a month, impede your ability to function in social and professional contexts, and negatively affect your relationships.


Not everyone who experiences trauma gets PTSD, and not everyone with PTSD needs psychiatric care. For some people, symptoms of PTSD diminish or disappear with time. Others recover with the help of their support network (family members and close friends). However, many persons with PTSD require professional treatment to recover from intense psychological suffering. However, the sooner a patient receives treatment, the greater their probability of recovery.

Psychiatrists and other mental health professionals employ a variety of effective treatment options to assist people in recovering from PTSD. Both psychotherapy and medication have been demonstrated to be effective treatment options for PTSD.


Psychotherapy for PTSD includes assisting the person in developing skills for symptom management and coping strategies. Additionally, therapy aims to educate the person and their family about the mental disease and to assist the person in overcoming the concerns linked with the traumatic experience. There are a number of psychotherapy techniques used to treat PTSD.

Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (TF-CBT)

TF-CBT is a talking therapy that can assist you in altering your ways of thinking. This can help you feel better and change your behavior over time. There is evidence that TF-CBT can also be delivered in groups, though it is often delivered one-on-one.

Eye Movement Desensitisation & Reprocessing (EMDR)

EMDR therapy uses eye movements to assist the brain in processing painful memories. You will be asked to recollect the traumatic experience and describe how it affects your thoughts and emotions. During this time, you will be asked to execute eye movements or get “bilateral stimulation” in the form of hand tapping. This has been demonstrated to reduce the strength of the emotions associated with traumatic memories, helping to resolve the trauma.

Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)

DBT can help alleviate PTSD symptoms. Through mindfulness, DBT teaches you how to remain grounded in the present moment. The DBT skills of emotion regulation and distress tolerance can help you manage the pain and suffering you feel in response to intrusive thoughts.

Individual Therapy

In this sort of psychotherapy, a trained professional assists an individual in resolving their personal issues. Individual therapy is an effective treatment option for a range of emotional problems and mental disorders, such as PTSD.

Family Therapy

The primary focus of family therapy for PTSD is on the connections between the trauma survivor and family members. This type of therapy emphasizes clear communication that enables all participants to express their feelings in a safe manner.

Group Therapy

Group therapy is a helpful form of psychotherapy because it allows the individual to discuss their feelings, thoughts, and fears with others who have also experienced traumatic events.


Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), such as paroxetine, are used to treat depression, anxiety, and sleep issues, all of which are often associated with PTSD. According to some reports, antidepressant medicines may raise the risk of suicide in people under the age of 24.

Benzodiazepines are often used to treat irritability, sleeplessness, and anxiety. The National Center for PTSD does not endorse them since they do not cure the fundamental symptoms and can develop into physical dependence.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Which mental disorder does PTSD fall under?

PTSD is included in a new category in DSM-5, Trauma- and Stressor-Related Disorders. As a diagnostic requirement, exposure to a traumatic or stressful event is necessary for every disorder in this categorization.

Is PTSD a mental illness or brain injury?

Although PTSD is a mental condition, the stress that goes along with it can harm the body. TBI is a neurological condition brought on by brain trauma. It can cause a range of changes and impairments in physical abilities, thinking and learning, vision, hearing, smell, taste, social skills, habits, and communication.

Is PTSD an illness or disability?

If the applicant meets the criteria for Listings 12.15 or 112.15 “Trauma- and stressor-related illnesses,” the SSA may recognize PTSD as a disability. The Social Security Administration will recognize you as handicapped and allow you to receive disability benefits if your PTSD symptoms are severe enough to prevent you from working.

The Recovery Team Can Help You with Trauma

If you have experienced a horrific and traumatic event in the past and are suffering from PTSD symptoms, it is very important to seek out professional help.

The Recovery Team is here to assist you in alleviating symptoms of PTSD by employing a number of effective treatment options. We offer a variety of treatment options for alcoholism, including detoxification programs, behavioral, individual, and group therapy sessions, and effective medication plans.

For more information, contact us at (800) 817-1247 today!